Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

An Unfortunate and Lengthy Adventure in Misdiagnosis

Macrobiotic blues

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I read “Sugar Blues” by William Dufty about a year ago. It’s a diatribe against the use of sugar, and was a really groundbreaking book when it was first released back in the mid seventies. Dufty recounts how he gave up sugar and all of his chronic health problems like depression, aches and pains, headaches, skin problems, asthma, repeated infections, etc, etc, all went away. He talks a lot about the classic “diseases of civilisation” and blames them on the consumption of pure white refined carbohydrates, particularly sugar.

I had a bit of a chortle at the time because Dufty gives up sugar and his magical dietary conversion is to macrobiotics. He enthuses about eating brown rice and umeboshi plums, and as anyone who has ever low-carbed knows, this is just “sugar in a different form”, because the glucose index of these nutritionally deficient foods is virtually identical, and the nutritional content not much different. But low-carbers also like to blame sugar for everything, including many things it is not responsible for.

Macrobiotics – with perhaps the exception of vegan/fruitarian/Buddhist/Jainist diets – is one of the worst wholefood diets you can embark on, but any wholefood diet is a real step forward from eating the processed, additive-laden crap I see my coworkers eating every day. The kitchen fridge in the office is full of skimmed milk and Weight Watchers yoghurts with ADHD colourings and flavourings, and of course dreaded banana-and-an-apple combos (“two of your five-a-day“, and the highest carbohydrate vitamin deficient fruits you can choose). Those who don’t eat soy-and-propionate-containing white bread sandwiches eat MSG and other additive-containing wonders like Pot Noodles, Cup-a-Soups, and even delightful-looking tinned hot dogs smeared with tomato ketchup. I mean, given the choice between a bit of brown rice, beans and raw fish, or the above foods of the gods, which do you think makes a healthier individual?

But just because “Dr” Gillian McKeith, Madonna, and Gwyneth Paltrow do macrobiotics, should we jump off the bridge as well? McKeith is a wrinkly dragon with a most unpleasant personality, Madonna’s interpretation of macrobiotics is loose to say the least (her pregnancy diet consisted of lots of eggs and olives), and Paltrow, at 5′ 10″ and 112lbs, is dreadfully underweight. Paltrow also smokes, which is a classic response to the macrobiotic diet. Much as those celebrities who buy into the diet claim some sort of spiritualism from it, the macrobiotic diet is not based on mystical ancient Eastern medicine: it was invented by one man, George Ohsawa, in the 1960s, and it has made him a lot of money.

Despite the carbohydrate content of these diets, they tend to lead to underweight. Lean mass wasting is a typical result of vegan and macrobiotic diets. Study after study has shown such diets result in lower bone density, lower muscle mass, and a comparatively higher body fat for the same weight than meat eaters. I saw my own lean body mass improve considerably since I started low-carbing three years ago. To illustrate the point with a little unscientific fun, compare the body fat and lean body masses of known long-term vegan Drew Barrymore with known long-term Atkinser, Jennifer Aniston. Stats on this page for Demi Moore (recent vegan), and Madonna (recent macrobiotic) are out of date.

Yes, vegans and macrobiotics are more likely to weigh less than meat eaters, because it is hard to eat enough calories on a plant-based diet due to the sheer bulk of the food that has to be ingested. But does that lead to meal-time satisfaction or correct nutrition? Plant-based diets are very energy inefficient and result in animals that must constantly graze in order to live. Unfortunately lower BMI is often misinterpreted by the media as making automatic good-health. But macrobiotic and vegan diets are deficient in several vitamins and minerals, including A, D, E, B6, B12, omega 3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, and calcium. The most extreme form of macrobiotics – zen macrobiotics – resulted in numerous deaths from scurvy (vitamin C deficiency) back in the 1960s. Long-term vitamin A deficiency results in poor bone growth, skin and mucus membrane dryness and keratinisation (hence McKeith’s exceedingly premature wrinkles and the reason that any time you see her in a magazine or advertisement she has been airbrushed beyond recognition). Vitamin D and calcium deficiencies lead to rickets in children, increased cancer risk in adults, and reduced bone mass.

Long-term B12 deficiency (starting at as little as two years’ absence from the diet) leads to neuropathy, the de-myelinisation of nerves, including those within the brain, which leads to the misfiring of neurons. The end result of B12 deficiency is megoblastic anaemia and schizophrenia. Dentist turned nutritional anthropologist, Dr. Weston A. Price never found a single tribe of ‘primitives’ who were successfully vegetarian. Every single vegan I have knowingly met displayed odd or irrational behaviour and reasoning that I suspect may be related to B12 deficiency. Many, but not all, of the vegetarians I know display eccentric behaviour – one who has been vegetarian since being a child is quite odd. As a virtually vegan teenager I myself experienced nocturnal visual and auditory hallucinations sometimes called “Restless Brain Syndrome”, an ‘unexplained’ condition. My hallucinations only ended after I started to include more dairy products in my diet. The one schizophrenic I know in real life also happens to be a vegetarian, who shared her mental ward with a fruitarian and a chronic alcoholic (a condition that also results in B12 deficiency). Coincidence? This lady has several other very obvious signs of B12 deficiency, including goiter (thyroid, B12 deficiency and intrinsic factor deficiency all interact), yet to this day she continues to be treated by unwitting psychologists with emotional therapy and incompetantly high doses of psychoactive drugs which fail to control her condition. My attempts to contact her through friends have failed.

So what about smoking? I hate to publicise that often unscientific website Quackwatch, but here goes:

Macrobiotics was founded by Yukikazu Sakurazawa (1893-1966)-better known as George Ohsawa. His first book in English, Zen Macrobiotics, was published in mimeographed form in 1960. Macrobiotic insider Ronald Kotzsch, Ph.D., who wrote Macrobiotics: Yesterday and Today, portrays Ohsawa as a quixotic Japanese nationalist who, while preaching the “Unique Principle” of yin and yang, smoked heavily and occasionally enjoyed cheesecake, doughnuts, Coca-Cola, coffee, Guinness Stout, and Scotch whiskey. In Kotzsch’s words, “Ohsawa was a man who for forty years taught about health with a cigarette in his hand.” A Kushi Seminar for Professionals

In fact, many of the founding fathers of the macrobiotic diet are heavy smokers, and despite the macrobiotic diet being promoted as an “anti-cancer diet”, two of the Kushi family women have themselves died of cancer. Says Stephen Byrnes, “Anne Louise Gittleman, in her book Your Body Knows Best, commented on these strange practices in macrobiotics (Gittleman used to be an adherent and got very sick in the process) and attributed them to practitioners needing stimulants because of what was lacking in the diet: adequate fat and protein.”

What is not understood by many of the non-smoking majority is that many smokers use cigarettes to suppress their appetite when they are hungry. This leads to weight gain and an inability to control appetite when they try to give up. Cigarettes stimulate serotonin release, which is temporarily calming. Eating carbohydrates also stimulates serotonin release. But your body can only produce so much serotonin (which it does from protein, something deficient in macrobiotic and vegan diets: a genuine Japanese rice-based diet by contrast is extremely high in protein from eggs, pork and seafood), and repeated stimulation and release in this way leads to long-term serotonin depletion and a cyclical dependency in which the subject feels considerably worse when they try to give up their diet or their cigarettes.

The problem with frequent, repeated serotonin release is that the effects of serotonin last for one or two hours at the most. Eat a meal that is heavy in carbohydrates like a bowl of brown rice, and you will have subtle cravings for a little something more in a couple of hours time. Cigarettes fill this gap between meals comfortably for the macrobiotic. However, the resultant fluctuations in serotonin levels can and do lead to depression and other serotonin-disturbance related disorders like erratic behaviour, paranoia, obsession and repetition. Something particularly common with this style of low-protein high-carbohydrate diet is the serotonin-related condition, obsessive-compulsive disorder (which may explain one or two aspects of “Dr” Gillian McKeith’s personality).

What of the claims that macrobiotics cures chronic health conditions like eczema, gastrointestinal disorders, and makes people feel wonderfully calm? Well, this largely depends how the diet that is done. In fact I personally know of an extremely cross and irritable macrobiotic – hardly a surprise there. ‘Correctly’ done, the macrobiotic diet is very low in fruit and vegetables and consists largely of rice, other grains, and beans. This is a diet that is additive-free and extremely low in salicylates and amines, and as grains are pressure-cooked, much of the lectin content is also destroyed.

Additives, salicylates and amines can and frequently do cause skin and gastrointestinal problems, irritability and other emotional problems in people. These are quite coincidentally absent from the macrobiotic diet. “Dr” Gillian McKeith’s and many others’ fabled ‘health recoveries’ when they go macrobiotic are in all probability due to the fact that a macrobiotic diet is 80% failsafe: not because they are actually eating ‘properly’, or even ‘correctly balancing their yin and yang’ or other woolly naturopath nonsense. I would be deeply unsurprised if the conditions which William Dufty blames on sugar were actually caused by additives.


Written by alienrobotgirl

6 July, 2006 at 11:49 am

Posted in Vegetarianism

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